John Betjeman Award

“Places of worship are… the history of English art displayed in living form…” - Sir John Betjeman

The winner of this year’s award is St George’s Church, Hinton St George, Somerset. Lanercost Priory and Tewkesbury Abbey were highly commended by thejudges. The award will be presented at our AGM on 12 July.

 

(Photos from left to right: monument in the Poulett Memorial Chapel at St George's Church, embroidered dossal at Lanercost Priory, consolidation work at Tewkesbury Abbey)

The John Betjeman award is given to celebrate excellence in the conservation and repair of places of worship of any faith in England and Wales, although cathedrals are not eligible. It recognises and rewards the highest standards of conservation craftsmanship and the winning project is publicised as an example to others of good practice.  The award is made for specific repair to, or conservation of, a single element of a church’s fabric, fitting or furnishing and is given to the place of worship rather than to any individual associated with the work. It celebrates the project, the building and the community that cares for it.

Three very different projects were shortlisted - textile conservation at Lanercost Priory, stone repair at Tewkesbury Abbey and monument conservation at St George’s Church, Hinton St George, Somerset. The judges selected Hinton as this year’s winner by a majority vote. However, they found it a particularly difficult decision to reach given the quality of all the projects and agreed that Lanercost and Tewkesbury should both be ‘Highly Commended’.  All three shortlisted projects had a great deal to commend them as examples of good practice in sensitive repair.

St George’s Church, Hinton St George, Somerset        Winner

The parish had been successful in securing grant support to repair the Poulett Chapel, which occupies the eastern end of the church’s north aisle, and conserve the collection of Poulett family monuments in the chapel.  The repair of the memorial to John, 1st Baron Poulet (d 1649) formed the final phase of this work and was carried out by Lynne Humphries and Emma Norris of Humphries and Jones Ltd
The monument’s conservation was informed by a preliminary conservation assessment and recommendations, and decision-making as the project proceeded was in close collaboration with the inspecting architect, Philip Hughes. A minimum intervention approach informed by documentary research and extensive trials was followed.

Overpaint was removed to reveal underlying original scagliola and research indicates that this memorial might, in fact, be the earliest example of use of scagliola in England (dated to c1667-69). A survey identified embedded ironwork but this was only removed where it was accessible and its corrosion clearly damaging the memorial. The fabric was not opened in other areas to reach it. ‘Blown’ surfaces were consolidated and retained rather than being renewed. Barrier layers (Paraloid or Primal) were used between original fabric and conservation interventions: the work is, therefore, identifiable and reversible.  Fills (principally in Plaster of Paris) were specified to be lighter and less strong than the substrate, and toned in to harmonise with the original.  Detached sections of original scagliola were salvaged and refixed. Gilding and paint were consolidated but not renewed. The monument, therefore, retains its faded appearance.
 
Interestingly, the conservators resisted remodelling missing elements such as the cherub’s face and principal figures’ missing arms as the visual and documentary evidence is not substantial and they wished to avoid conjecture.  Later crude additions, such as poorly-modelled arms, were removed.  However, a part of the original arm from one of the figures was identified amongst architectural fragments found in the chapel and has been refixed.

Lanercost Priory        Highly Commended

The parish received HLF funding to conserve the remarkable dossal designed for the church by William Morris in 1881. Installed at Easter 1887, the dossal, which is 705 cm long by 125cm deep, has remained in situ ever since. After initial gentle vacuuming to remove dust and insect debris, and carrying out trials, the dossal was cleaned by Royal Manufacturers de Wit of Belgium using their aerosol suction cleaning system, which removed significant amounts of air-borne soiling.  This gave a good result but, unfortunately, led to slight shrinkage of the dossal along its length. The parish wished, after conservation, to retain the dossal in situ in its original location, rather than treating it as a ‘museum object’ and placing it in a glass case.  It was, therefore, relined and rehung using Velcro fixings on a renewed wooden supporting frame, although the original hanging rings were retained. Later edging fabric which was not original to the dossal was removed, and the mouse- and moth-damaged bottom edge was consolidated using backing cloth dyed to match the faded original. Whereas crude mending darns were removed and replaced by smaller supporting patches applied to the back of the dossal, other mending and broken threads were retained where they were not actively damaging to the fabric. Steps were also taken to improve the environment in the church to assist with the long term care of the dossal. A programme of environmental monitoring has been introduced to help manage temperature and humidity, and the parish has instituted a detailed monthly and yearly ‘housekeeping’ regime, drawn up with the conservator’s advice, to guard against insect pests and minimise light damage, for example covering the dossal with blackout blinds when the church is not in use.

The judges commended the parish’s careful approach to extending the life of this remarkable object, allowing it to age gracefully, and explaining clearly the judgements they had had to make and the justification for the work carried out.   


Tewkesbury Abbey        Highly Commended

The Friends group funded the consolidation and repair of the remains of the former cloister on the south side of the Abbey, carried out by the Abbey’s architect Andrew Townsend with Hirst Conservation and conservator Sally Strachey. The cloister had been destroyed at the Reformation, leaving fragmentary remains – blind tripartite panels with a decorative trefoil band - on the south wall of the Abbey. Previously damaged by fire on more than one occasion and subject to unsympathetic cement mortar repairs the surface of the stonework was decayed.
The project used a full range of lime-based conservation and architectural techniques, targeted to address particular problems, in order to consolidate the stone surface. The whole wall has been protected with a limewash shelter coat and by the addition of a simple lead-covered projecting roof to throw off rainwater. 

The judges were impressed by the sensitive and minimal intervention approach taken to the project, through which the architect had succeeded in retaining the maximum amount of historic fabric possible and which clearly followed the SPAB’s guiding principles to a well-justified conclusion. 

For more on the award and judging criteria please download our Sir John Betjeman Award information sheet.